Sunday

1st May 2016

Pride, confusion and sour grapes after EU wins Nobel

  • Nobel awards gala: who will go to pick up the prize? (Photo: EUobserver)

EU officials weary of being sniped at for their handling of the crisis or their big salaries got a morale boost on Friday (12 October) when the five people on the Nobel Peace Prize committee in Norway gave the world's most prestigious award to "the European Union."

Committee secretary Geir Lundestad told press in Oslo the EU got it for its "accumulated record over more than six decades ... it was about time."

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

He listed five achievements: Franco-German reconciliation after World War II; support for new democracies in Greece, Portugal and Spain in the 1980s; support for former Communist states in the 1990s; modernisation of Turkey; and peacebuilding in the Western Balkans.

Committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland added that the timing of the award is linked to the euro gloom.

"We should focus again on the fundamental aims of the organisation ... If the euro fails, then the danger is that many other things will disintegrate as well, like the internal market and free borders. Then you will get nationalistic policies again. So it may set in motion a process which most Europeans would dislike," he said.

EU parliament President Martin Schulz was the quickest to react - 33 minutes after the news broke.

"It is a great honour ... We in the European Parliament are deeply touched," he said.

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso and EU Council head Herman Van Rompuy said in a joint statement shortly after "the European Union [is] an inspiration for leaders and citizens all over the world."

Van Rompuy in separate press remarks also called the EU "the biggest peacemaking institution ever created in world history."

Barroso spokesman Olivier Bailly fired off a series of tweets on how many people EU money has helped to save from Aids or hunger.

EU leaders, foreign ministers, prominent MEPs and former VIPs sent out similar messages.

Germany's Angela Merkel said the prize is "a spur ... We must work tirelessly and continue to strive for peace, democracy and freedom."

Octogenerian former chancellor Helmut Kohl said: "I am proud and I wish for God's blessing for us on our further path to a united Europe." His French counterpart, Jacques Delors, said: "I am very emotional."

Meanwhile, inside EU institutions in Brussels some meetings broke off as directors dug out bottles of champagne.

But amid the celebrations, there is some confusion on who the prize is really for and who will go to Oslo on 10 December to pick it up.

Barroso, Schulz and Van Rompuy paid heed to the fact peace in Europe is a much bigger story than just that of EU institution-building set in train by people such as Robert Schuman or Jean Monnet. They said the prize is "for all EU citizens ... for the project." Merkel said it is for the EU as an "idea."

Despite the sentiments, EU personalities quickly began to jostle for the limelight.

Barroso posed for a photo opportunity getting flowers from the Norwegian ambassador to the EU and Schulz' communique ended with a pitch for him to be on stage when the gong is handed out. "On behalf of the European Parliament, we, together with the other EU institutions, look forward to receiving the Nobel peace prize in Oslo," he said.

For her part, Polish centre-right MEP Lena Kolarska-Bobinska said the prize should be received by civil society leaders. Home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said it should be picked up by 27 children, one from each EU country.

Malmstrom also noted the prize usually goes to individuals who put their lives at risk to help others rather than to powerful institutions.

The other finalists this year were Belarusian and Russian dissidents, a Mexican bishop who stood up to drug lords, an Afghan women's rights campaigner and an Egyptian slum charity worker, some of whom are in jail.

"My first thoughts: most welcome, unexpected, important. Unexpected, naturally, as there are so many across the globe fighting for peace and democracy, who also deserve this prize - dissidents and organisations fighting an uphill battle," the Swedish commissioner said in her blog.

The Nobel committee's Lundestad also noted that "some people will find the award controversial," not least Norwegians, where "support for the EU is at an all time low."

The line up of detractors was dominated by professional eurosceptics.

Irish anti-EU campaigner Declan Ganley tweeted the prize money should be given to "failing bank bondholders" because that is where EU bailout cash "ends up ... anyway." Dutch MP Geert Wilders said: "At a time Brussels and all of Europe is collapsing in misery. What next? An Oscar for Van Rompuy?"

Spanish-born MEP Marta Andreasen said: "The EU and it's [austerity] policies are directly responsible for widespread public disorder and rioting in Greece and Spain."

British centre-right MEP Martin Callanan said "The Nobel Peace Prize was [already] devalued when it was given to newly-elected [US President] Barack Obama [in 2009]."

Obama at the time had just taken up office. In his post-Nobel-win years, he kept up hawkish US practices, such as using drones to kill "terrorists" in Pakistan or Yemen.

Several people, including former British foreign minister Malcolm Rifkind, said Nato has done more to keep the peace than the Union. Others noted that while the EU spends billions on aid, its trade policies support predatory multinational firms, such as oil and mining companies in Africa.

But some EU critics greeted the news with surprising good cheer.

Greenpeace EU director Jorgo Riss, better known for exposing how industry lobbyists distort EU legislation, said: "The Union has helped cement peace in Europe ... We now look to Europe's leaders to play a truly transformative role on the environmental stage."

Human Rights Watch EU chief Lotte Leicht, better known for attacks on EU relations with dictators, said: "This prize is a recognition of the EU's contribution to democracy and human rights."

"At the same time ... its voice must be heard loud and clear around the world exposing rights abusers and raising the price for human rights crimes, even when the abuser is financially and politically powerful," she added.

The original text said Decland Ganley had tweeted that EU bailout money goes to investment bankers. In fact, he said it goes to "failing bank bondholders"

News in Brief

  1. Netherlands funds €1.3mn Russian media project
  2. Fake euros network dismantled in Bulgaria
  3. Inflation negative in eurozone in April
  4. EU economy registers 0.5% growth in first quarter
  5. Eurovision says No to Kosovo, Palestine, IS flags
  6. EU to decide on future of tobacco agreement 'soon'
  7. Russia blames Sweden for frosty relations
  8. UN chief warns of 'growing xenophobia' in Europe

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Roundtable of IndustrialistsDigitising European Industry
  2. Counter BalanceParliament Gets Tough on Control EU Bank's Funds
  3. ICRCSyria: Aleppo on the Brink of Humanitarian Disaster
  4. CESIWorld Day For Health and Safety at Work: Public Sector Workers in The Focus
  5. EFABasque Peace Process-Arnaldo Otegi Visits the European Parliament
  6. EscardioChina Pays Price of Western Lifestyle With Soaring Childhood Obesity
  7. Centre Maurits CoppetiersThe Existence of a State is a Question of Fact, Not a Question of Law
  8. Martens CentreJoin Us at The Event: Prospects For EU Enlargement After 2019
  9. ICRCSyria: Aid for Over 120,000 People Arrives in Besieged Town Near Homs
  10. Counter BalanceHighway to Hell: European Money Fuelling Controversial Infrastructure Projects
  11. EPSUResponds To Reported €300 Million McDonald’s Tax Bill in France
  12. Access NowAcademics and Privacy Groups Ask Obama to Reject Anti-encryption Law

Latest News

  1. EU roaming charge cut enters UK referendum campaign
  2. EU fiscal rules, migrants and Belgium's trick
  3. EU should call out Bangladesh on workers' rights
  4. Kosovo: Living in a ghetto on the EU fringe
  5. War crimes law poisons Serbia accession talks
  6. Italy and Austria try to calm tensions on Alpine pass
  7. French MPs call to lift Russia sanctions
  8. EU sides with embattled Greek PM in bailout talks